Greenon preparing to pursue new building project again

The earliest the district would seek a levy is 2017, but they want the community involved now.

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Greenon Local School District leaders are starting the planning process to hopefully build new schools.

The school board has met with architects and representatives of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission in recent weeks and will present initial ideas to the district’s Business Advisory Committee at a special meeting on Monday.

“Our buildings have significant facilities concerns to address,” Superintendent Brad Silvus said. “We are in the very initial stage right now of engaging the right experts on school facilities… to help us evaluate the facilities, identify the issues that need corrected, and explore all options that may be available to our district.”

It’s a road the district has been down before.

With Greenon High School rated second worst school building in the state by the OFCC two years ago, board President Dennis Henry said everyone knows the issues — sweltering classrooms on warm days, outdated labs for STEM disciplines, and the need for trailer classrooms to accommodate all the different subjects the junior/senior high school wants to offer.

The district held community meetings about possible solutions in 2012 and placed a bond issue on the ballot that November. The initial plan was to build two new buildings with the state paying about $22.5 million, 40 percent of the construction costs. Voters said no 55 percent to 45 percent.

In May of 2013 the district tried again with what it dubbed, "Plan B," to just construct one new 7th- through 12th-grade school and renovate the middle school. But voters again rejected the levy by a nearly 8 percent margin.

School leaders hope this time around they can get a community-led levy committee to solicit ideas for what exactly district residents want and then galvanize support for that plan. The earliest the district envisions the issue going on the ballot is May 2017.

“They’re going to get a lot more reception than if the school board manages the levy committee,” Henry said. “What we would suggest to that committee is, let’s put together two or three different scenarios, let’s let the community give us feedback.”

One initial idea that has been pitched by architecture firms is the creation of a new dual junior and senior high school on the site of the current Greenon building with two different wings for grades 6-8 and 9-12.

Board member Sabrina North said it will be imperative to communicate to parents that these wings will be like separate schools under the plan, because many have expressed concern over younger students mixing with high schoolers.

Under the plan, preschool through fifth grade students could be housed at Indian Valley while the current Enon Primary building could house district offices.

One looming issue the board discussed at a work session April 8 was the potential for residential growth in the district.

Greenon’s student population has been shrinking for the past decade, Henry said, and currently averages about 1,740.

A proposed development near the current Houck Meadows subdivision and several smaller housing projects in the area have raised the issue of what to do if the district were to get a large influx of students.

As many as 140 houses have been proposed to be developed at the northeast corner of Fairfield Pike and Hunter Road, but necessary rezoning to get that project underway was rejected this week by Clark County commissioners after residents expressed concern about flooding, increased traffic and other issues.

The school board has taken note of what’s been happening with the potential development, Henry said, but the need for new schools isn’t a space issue.

“We’re not busting at the seams,” he said. If the district were to get 100 new students they could probably be accommodated in the current buildings, although that wouldn’t be ideal, he said.

“It’s not based upon population, but based on what our buildings don’t offer in terms of an education. There’s a lot of science things that we would like to offer that we can’t because we don’t have up-to-date science facilities.”

The OFCC has processes in place to predict and accommodate future growth as they develop a master plan with a district.

“Some of the early work on that involves not only building assessments for current facilities, but also enrollment projections for the next ten years. How man students do we think are going to be in the building?” said Rick Savors, a spokesman for OFCC.

The state commission has been accurate within 3 to 4 percent of the actual student population on their projects he said.

There is also a safeguard in state law that if enrollment grows by more than 15 percent within a certain time frame after a building project, the state has an obligation to come back and address the issue. But that kind of growth is unusual, Savors said.

“At the end of the day, both the district and this agency have the obligation to be good stewards of the tax payers dollars and build right-sized buildings,” he said.

Both the OFCC and Greenon said they are still in the infancy of the planning stage.

“What we’ve done preliminarily is to go to the state and say, okay, if we put an issue on the ballot what kind of funding are we going to look at from the state?” Henry said.

Those discussions will develop into a masters facility plan with an offer of funding from the state commission. Once that is approved by both the school board and the state, the district will have 13 months — or four elections — to secure local match funding so the OFCC can release government funds, Savors said.

The planning phase, on average, lasts one to two years and actual construction can take anywhere from two to four years, he said.